Beauty and the Beasts

OK, no real pictures of beasts in this post, but when you step into a nature preserve the animals you meet are wild, not domesticated, and that can be an adventure.  The beauty part is the gorgeous, snowy landscape we encountered on our Saturday morning walk!

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The snow outlined every tiny branch as we started our walk this morning in a nearby forest preserve in Cook County.

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The trail had an interesting pattern, as the snow covered each twig and leaf on the ground, but melted when it met the clay path.

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We noticed animal tracks climbing a tree.

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A closer look at raccoon tracks

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With snow covering everything we made our way carefully down the hill to the stream.

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The water was flowing in the stream.  We found some large stones where we could step and cross over without getting wet.

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We followed a horse / animal trail so that we would not get lost, as everything looks the same with the snow cover.  Up ahead, through the shrubs, we glimpsed two white-tailed deer run through the forest.

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When we stopped to listen we could hear an emergency vehicle, an airplane, and also a bird.  Looking around I spotted a male red-bellied woodpecker.

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A little further down the path we stopped to listen and heard some howling and yipping coyotes, maybe chasing those deer we saw or something else.  We could not see them, but they were somewhere off to our left.  We both picked up pointy branches and decided to head back out to the main trail.  Coyotes don’t see people as potential prey, but when there are a group of them and it is not our backyard we wanted to be ready to stand our ground and scare them if they were nearby.  After that we did not hear them again.  Sorry, no pictures of deer or coyotes!

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Back at home, there was just a thin layer of snow that was mostly melted by the afternoon.

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The male northern cardinal, a frequent visitor, is a beauty!

Cap Sauer Holdings

One of our favorite parts of the Cook County Forest Preserves are the Cap Sauer Holdings.  We parked on the south side of the Calumet Sag Road (Route 83) and walked in on a tiny path where no dogs are allowed.  As we walked south the traffic sounds gradually faded.

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We walked uphill until we were walking on top of a ridge.  We saw no one on our morning walk but constantly heard airplanes overhead.

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We walked by a wetland where we hear frogs in the spring.  But is was cold and quiet.

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We paused to look at fungi and try to identify a bird call.  Or was it a squirrel?  I heard a woodpecker drilling on a tree.

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Then I saw a movement, and realized it was a coyote.  I tried to get Dan to see it.

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I managed to get one clearer picture.  There were actually two coyotes and they gradually slunk away from us further into the woods.  It is a good place to hide and they blend in well with the gray and brown landscape this time of year.  They looked healthy with pretty fur.

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As we walked out I could see a frozen stream flowing downhill.  It was a gray day and these pictures may seem dull, although it was a beautiful walk.  This is a wonderful place to see spring wildflowers.

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We saw a lot of these tennis ball looking fruit near the trailhead.  Looking on Google it seems like these are from an Osage Orange tree.

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Back home, my attention was drawn to a flock of starlings that were checking out the birdbath in the backyard.

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The house sparrows were attracted by the racket.  The water is off and on frozen these days.

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The male northern cardinal briefly stopped by.

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The female northern cardinal looked for a meal on the ground.

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The robin tried out a crabapple.

We are almost at the shortest day of the year.  Time for winter walks, and mostly cozy time indoors, and holiday celebrations!

 

Bluebird, Sapsucker and Tree Swallows

The yard is slowly greening up and I am doing various early spring chores.  This blog is getting to be more and more about birds, though, as I wander around the nearby forests and grasslands on birding adventures.

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Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

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As Dan was taking these bluebird pictures we could actually see the bird singing.  I went to a program on birding by ear at the Sand Ridge Audubon Society on Friday, so now I am noticing bird calls more, though still can’t identify many.

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Male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  I saw my first ever yellow-bellied sapsucker in our yard in the last two weeks and saw another one in the forest preserve yesterday.

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Closer look at yellow-bellied sapsucker

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This is a yellow-bellied sapsucker in our yard a week ago.  It just pecked a hole in our chinquapin oak tree.

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Female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  The cardinals are nesting in our yard.

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The trail along the slough at the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday.

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Just to the right of the trail is the slough.

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It looks like the tree swallows are back and have found a home.

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Tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

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I think this is some kind of veery or thrush.

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Another shot of my mystery bird with a white eye ring, and some speckles on the chest.

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Can you see the adult bald eagle with the white head working on a fish lunch?  I watched a few eagles as Sag Slough one day, but I did not have enough zoom to get a clear view all the way across the water.

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Sunset at Orland Grasslands.  I went twice to see if I could find a woodcock, but no luck.  The first time I was in the wrong place and the second time they had completed a prescribed burn, so I am sure the woodcocks had relocated.  Still, I ended up with a gorgeous sunset!

March Birds, Witch-hazel and Crocus

It has been very birdy recently.  We enjoyed the winter birds, and this month have been starting to notice the spring birds, which are much more vocal.  Some will be nesting locally and some will just be migrating through.  I also took a closer look in the yard today to find the first flowers.

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Resident robin resting late in the afternoon in the oak tree.  Where will the nest be this year?

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Another robin picture.  This time in the maple tree next door that is about to flower.

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The male northern cardinal has been singing a lot recently.  This is not a great picture, but you can see the daffodils in the background that are slowly nudging up.

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I love it when the mourning dove visits.

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The vernal witch-hazel has been blooming for a while now.

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The first yellow snow crocus blooms are so cheery.

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I noticed another crocus blooming near the house.  On closer inspection it looks like the rabbit ate the green shoots right off.

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I had noticed this flower from my office window and thought it was an anemone, until I took a closer look today and saw this purple crocus, which I don’t think I planted here….

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One more crocus picture!

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I have been hearing sandhill cranes every day around noon over the past week.  Large flocks of them tend to circle in our area, catching an updraft before moving on.

Our Saturday walks last week and this week have given us a glimpse of quite a few migrating birds.

Little Red Schoolhouse – March 16

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Common mergansers

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Hooded mergansers – a little blurry

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Song sparrow?

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A white-tailed deer on the path watched us as we watched it.

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Ice crystals on the river last week.  Now most ice has melted.

McGinnis Slough – March 23

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The air was filled with the sound of red-winged blackbirds this morning.

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Male northern shoveler.

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The paths around the slough were flooded.  We had worn our winter boots, but still had to head into the thicket to go around the water.  Dan fearlessly pushed through the brush.

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Ring-necked ducks

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Lesser scaup

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Buffleheads

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Mallard couple nesting.  I hope the ducks and geese did not lose eggs in the flooded waters.

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It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we walked down the path in the other direction toward the open water.  We paused to listed to the chickadees and woodpeckers.

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Finally we came to the view where we could see hundred and hundred of ducks.  A muskrat was swimming around in the reeds near us as we listened to the red-winged blackbirds overhead and enjoyed the sun on our backs.

Spring is on the way!

January Happenings

We finally got snow in 2019.  It seems more like winter now!

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Today we trimmed the chinquapin oak tree on the left.  Each year we have cut off a few lower branches and this may be the last year to do that.  We will see.  We like to keep some privacy, but don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes in the shade when changing the birdbath water or mowing the lawn under the low branches.

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Shadows on the snow

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Female northern cardinal on a snowy day.

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While I was putting together this post I saw this picture and remembered that we were going to prune back the left side of this American plum tree that is crowding into our yew bushes.  So we just went out and cut that off now.  We keep fighting for sunlight.

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On the last warm day, before the cold and snow, Dan turned the compost pile and mixed up all the very wet stuff, very dry stuff and kitchen scraps, so that it will keep decomposing as soon as we get a little more warmth.

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We smeared some peanut butter on a knot on the crabapple tree and the squirrel is working on it.

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This morning we watched hundreds of Canadian geese on the open waters on Lake Katherine.  We watched one group after another taking off and flying to the east.

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Several groups were landing on the grass nearby for their morning munch.

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A week ago Dan surprised me with a bouquet of roses and chrysanthemums.  We rarely buy flowers at the store these days, but it was a nice treat for January!

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Also, this is the time of year when vendors from work send holiday gifts.  We got one box of chocolates around Thanksgiving and two this week.  I had to take a picture of the beautiful way it was wrapped.

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I sure love chocolate!

Sunflowers and More!

I  never know what will happen when I throw seeds in the ground in the spring.  This year I was pleased with the sunny sunflowers that grew up in my un-mowed “meadow.”

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Sunflowers and coneflowers grow in grassy area.  Zinnias are on the right and Joe Pye Weed in the background.

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Sunflower and purple coneflowers.

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Sunflower with bee.  I saw a lot of different bees and flies on these flowers.

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I planted dwarf sunflowers called “Elves Blend,” and I liked the variety.

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By now the goldfinches have removed the petals and picked away at the seed center on this flower.

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I shot this American goldfinch picture from the kitchen this evening, working on a coneflower.

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This very small butterfly or moth was working on the Joe Pye Weed, which also attracts a lot of pollinators.

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The giant zinnias are looking good now and they are loved by the goldfinches and butterflies.

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Swamp milkweed with black-eyed Susans and Russian sage in the background.

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Black-eyed Susans and Miscanthus ornamental grass ‘morning light.’

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The yellow cherry tomatoes have been fantastic this year.  They are so sweet!  This time of year I spend more time with the vegetables than flowers.  I am picking them and making salads or cooking them and eating them…..

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I usually plant three or four varieties of tomatoes and see which ones are best.  These Bonnie Originals have been wonderful this year.

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Zucchini

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A rabbit has moved into the yard, but mostly seems interested in eating the clover in the grass.

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Our next door neighbor called us over to look at the snake they found sunning in front of their house.  We wondered what kind it was for a while.  It turns out it was a python and a neighbor in the area collects snakes and it must have escaped.  I am glad I did not come across it in our yard….and glad it got safely back to the neighbor!

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Northern Cardinal at the birdbath.  The day lilies add some color.

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In July this bird was in our yard for a while.  I think it is a juvenile Baltimore Oriole.

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One day some northern flickers came for an ant meal.  This handsome male was poking around this tiny bird house I call my bug house.

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I snapped a picture of a cicada on the pole beans.

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The black chokeberries on the bush I planted in the spring seem to be ripening now.  Apparently they are edible, but need a lot of sugar, so best in jellies and jams, which I probably will not make.  Let’s see if the birds like them.

Yellow and Red

Daffodils are a transition between winter and spring.

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The first mini daffodils are making an appearance!

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These mini daffodils will be a welcome place for the first tiny bugs and pollinators.

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The yellow crocuses are fully opened and the purple crocuses will appear soon.

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Male northern cardinal at the frozen birdbath.  For mating season males show their brightest colors and sing beautiful songs.

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We noticed a male house finch singing in the oak and moving back into the neighborhood with some bright red feathers…

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The rhubarb plant is popping out of the earth!  It is almost April!